When I was twenty-three, my cousin got married. She and I are six months apart, so even though we we have never been close, we were close by age-proximity. We were always in the same grade, we finished high school at the same time, we moved through life in chronological sync.
Except that I wasn’t getting married and she was.
I remember sitting in that ceremony and crying. There were sentimental tears, of course (who doesn’t cry at weddings?), but there were also tears of self-pity, tears that I was not loved or married or celebrated. I wondered when it would be my turn. I felt somewhat okay with my turn not happening at twenty-three, but I wondered, speculatively, when it would be my turn. Twenty-eight felt like a nice age. Maybe thirty. Maybe even early thirties. I felt twinges of jealously watching her up there, but I wasn’t terribly concerned. I was fresh out of college, after all, and even though my two most recent break-ups still stung, I figured I had all the time in the world to find my own partner, to celebrate my romance in front of adoring friends and family. My turn would come.
Flash forward fifteen years. I’m still unmarried, and now another family member is about to embark on her own celebration of romance (and pregnancy) in front of adoring friends and family — and she’s eight years younger than me.
Clearly part of me has failed.
I can play the zen game as well as anyone else — sometimes. I can extoll the virtues of nighttimes unblemished by children’s tears. I have never had to find a sitter. I can revel in the freedom that being unattached provides. I can appreciate the time and commitment my career has received, time that I have never had to share with a long-term partner or a child. I have never had to compromise in any significant way for another person. I have been allowed to be selfish and unaccountable. Surely these things are also worth celebrating?
For the most part, I can appreciate the career moment life has afforded me. That my life, it seems, has insisted upon. I’ve written books, I’ve returned to school, I’ve traveled the world. Clearly the universe has its own plans for me, romance be damned.
But sometimes the zen game fails. Sometimes the smoke and mirrors clear and then the ugly wrinkles show up. You know, the wrinkles that come with being almost forty. The metaphorical ones and the literal ones. When you read articles about childbirth later in life and wonder if that’s even going to be an option. And you can’t help thinking, by the time I’m ready to have a child, will I still want one? Will I still be able to produce one? Will adoption be the only option? Will single motherhood be the way I’m forced to go?
These are the things you think about when you’re pushing forty, and you feel like you missed the boat. The boat that everyone I went to high school with seems to have caught in their twenties. The boat that you wonder how you missed, and what were you doing at the time, and were the tickets ever in the mail, anyway?
The zen game can be a nice equivalent…sometimes. And other times, it’s hard not to feel defective, to wonder why you’re the toy everyone keeps putting back on the shelf. And then it’s hard to just grin and bear it.